In most countries, support for these parties – measured in polls – has declined, in some cases, for example in Norway, quite quickly. However, these results should be taken with caution. National crises tend to cause a “rally around the flag” no matter what – how else to explain the temporary increase in support for Donald Trump and the British Conservatives?
However, once the crisis is over, we can expect the situation to change. It is likely to give way to a critical examination of the multiple failures of leadership, which are helping to transform a serious health threat into a national disaster of epic proportions. And with that, there will be a moment of calculation which will probably leave few governments unblemished. In these circumstances, it is reasonable to expect that the radical populist right – given that it was unable to make decisions in the days of CoVid-19 – will make a comeback.
Leading populist radical right leaders are already preparing their rhetoric for the next day. In what follows, the focus is on the probably most influential current leaders, Marine Le Pen (Rassemblement National, RN, formerly Front National) and Matteo Salvini (Lega, formerly Lega Nord). Under the predecessor of Marine Le Pen, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front had the status of first among peers – a first for equality – on the radical populist right, in particular with regard to programmatic innovations.
Even if with Marine Le Pen, the Front has lost some of its brilliance, it still serves as a point of reference for a number of like-minded parties. But with Matteo Salvini, Marine Le Pen faces a serious challenger. Under his leadership, the Lega soared in the polls, far surpassing its right-wing competitors, like Forza Italy by Silvio Berlusconi, relegated to the margins of the Italian party system.
Like other major politicians in France and beyond, Marine Le Pen was trapped by the boom of the pandemic; worse still, after meeting with a right-wing politician in mid-March which turned out to be positive, she entered voluntary self-quarantine although she was asymptomatic. As the leader of one of the main political parties in France, she was consulted by the President of the Republic. As a result, she could hardly claim that she had been sidelined. More importantly, the next presidential elections in France will be held in two years. And Marine Le Pen is once again Macron’s main opponent. Under these circumstances, Marine Le Pen had to walk slightly, moderating her tone.
In fact, at the beginning of March, Marine Le Pen had already noted positive signs indicating that the president of the republic was taking leave of his “anti-national ideology”, ready to accept to close the external borders of the EU. She also noted that she saw not only signs of “a complete questioning of the ultraliberal model”, of outsourcing at any cost, of privatization, but also “of an ode to public service”. All of this, she noted, suggests that the president “understood his mistakes: on these issues”.
This conciliatory tone did not last long; neither is moderation. At the end of the month, Marine Le Pen went into full attack mode, ready to exploit the crisis for potential political gain.
There was a simple reason for this reversal of strategy: unfavorable survey data. As the crisis progressed, the public image of Marine Le Pen deteriorated. In early April, only a little over a fifth of the French public had a positive impression of her.